Meetings mean business

No one can pretend that it has been an easy time for the meetings industry in Europe over recent years. Didier Scaillet, Chief Development Officer at Meeting Professionals International (MPI) reveals why meetings matter


The meetings industry has taken some major knocks in the past couple of years. World recession, worsening economies, rising unemployment, budget cuts, volatile oil prices, increase in taxes, security threats, the impact on Influenza A and the worst ever year for the airline industry all have combined to paint a less than optimistic landscape for the meetings industry.

Although it would be foolhardy to predict that the worst is over, there are major signs that the meetings industry is recognising that it is one in transition; adapting to the new reality of developing products, packages and value propositions that will position the business of meetings for future growth. After all, recession is a great trends accelerator.

Proof of this is highlighted in MPI’s annual forward looking survey, FutureWatch, undertaken in partnership with American Express. With input from 2,700 meeting planners and buyers taken from 39 countries, FutureWatch provides the industry’s most comprehensive snapshot of what factors will directly impact on the industry in 2010 and beyond.

To put this year’s results into perspective, FutureWatch 2009 indicated declines in almost every measure of industry strength, including attendance, budgets, number and length of meetings.

The outlook for 2010 looks much rosier. Key findings from FutureWatch showed that In 2010, meeting and event budgets are expected to fall by six percent. Last year’s report predicted that budgets would rise 22.6 percent. In fact, 17 percent of corporate meeting planners and 12 percent of association meeting planners predict some level of budget reductions in the upcoming year. Nevertheless, government meeting planners generally expect fewer budget reductions, explaining that the private sector does not usually have an effect on the necessity of their meetings.

Competitive pricing will be one of the key cornerstones of the business relationships that underpin a successful event and an effective industry;
– Planners and suppliers will both take a back to basics approach to meeting and events transactions, in which value and quality will consistently trump frills, extras and special deals.

With more meetings located closer to home, fewer participants can expect to travel long distances. Planners and suppliers agree that an increase in creativity and innovation will be a necessary and invaluable tool in 2009. They expect new standards and practices to emerge, which will make the industry more efficient and effective for the long term. While client-side planners foresee a nine percent drop in volume, independent meeting management professionals expect only a marginal reduction of 0.5percent.

11 percent of meeting professionals expect an increase in the use of technology to access meetings and content remotely, in order to help lower overall costs.

Face-to-face meetings are still considered to have the highest return of all marketing tools. A greater significance is now being placed upon planners worldwide to provide the value of the proposed meetings and events. Some 74 percent of organisations holding meetings and events measure return on investment (ROI). Additionally, the primary measure of ROI is the satisfaction of the meeting attendees;
– Corporate social responsibility will increasingly be on the agenda, as a potential differentiator for companies and associations that can demonstrate a strong commitment to effective CSR programmes.

Our FutureWatch research is not alone in recognising that the meeting industry is very much alive and kicking. Research points again and again to the importance of face to face meetings. After all personal interaction, in all its facets, is the foundation on which business relationships are built; a major factor in driving business.

A survey of 2,300 Harvard Business Review readers concluded that 95 percent of business people said that they believe face to face meetings are key to success in building long term relationships and 89 percent agree face to face meetings are essential for sealing the deal and nearly all (95 percent) agreed that meetings are key to the success in building long term relationships

Across the board, face to face meetings were seen as the most effective method for conducting business with key stakeholders, compared with videoconferences, teleconferences and webinars. A further survey of business travellers by the Kellog School of Management concluded that 81 percent of corporate executives believed that a slow economy calls for more contact with clients not less.

What is clear is that the global meetings and events industry is coming to grips with a major paradigm shift and the FutureWatch data, together with other research, reveals how acute the expectations are for change.

Am I optimistic about the future of the meetings industry for 2010? Most certainly. Face to face meetings, whether through trade shows, incentive trips, conferences or events are very much on companies agendas. The landscape has changed, the tools used to communicate have changed; those joining the industry have a new way of thinking.

Over the next year, competitive pricing, a preference for quality and value over frills and extras, and a greater emphasis on ROI measurement will set the tone for the industry that has to rely on its flexibility and creativity to survive. This is an exciting and challenging time for the industry as it embraces a future that is still taking shape; one that offers considerable opportunities for business success. And after all, meetings mean business.

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